The New Jersey Devils enter the final games left in the 2013-14 NHL regular season and the cause of their being eliminated from playoff contention is: inconsistency.
The Devils this season have played in 46 games decided by one goal. New Jersey has the dubious distinction of leading the NHL in Overtime Losses with 17. The team needs to play better on the road with a 14-18-9 record (only 3 teams have fewer wins on the road) and that needs to improve next season.
This season the Devils seemed to be good enough to hang around with several teams, but fell short in several games. Those results need to be converted to wins next season. They played well and even defeated some very good teams, and yet have a record of 6-4-4 against the bottom tier of teams in the league.
These trends can all be reversed through more consistent play. Any improvements that the Devils can make on their offense finishing around the net could have very easily changed several of the 46 close games they played within this season.
A well timed defensive play could also have very easily converted some victories throughout the course of the year, to the point where that is the difference between this edition of the Devils being a playoff team. Instead, they will be watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs from home.
The play of Jaromir Jagr and Martin Brodeur have been instrumental to the Devils success this season, and both veterans spoke out to the media this week regarding the team’s performance.
Jagr spoke about consistency being the key issue for the team this season, and the fact that they needed to convert scoring opportunities to win close games, and many times they failed to do so.
The veteran forward also was upset about the feedback of the fan base on social media which is strongly in favor of changing coaches. Jagr spoke out in support of Head Coach Peter DeBoer and stated that he thought the system the Devils play is very effective, and that it leaves the players responsible for executing it properly.
Jagr had a huge year for the Devils, and is here on a one year contract, so he continued to try to skirt the questions on his future with the team. He did comment, and I am paraphrasing, that he enjoyed his time playing in New Jersey and that he enjoyed playing for DeBoer in this system.
The veteran goaltender, Brodeur, made headlines in the media this week for saying, and I am paraphrasing, that the Devils players had, over the past few years, grown comfortable with being a mediocre or .500 level team. That the guys had grown accustomed to treading water, essentially, and then trying to squeeze into the playoffs late in the regular season.
These comments were revealing from one of the top players in the history of the franchise, and calls into question the validity of the performance level of the team in recent years.
At one point this week, Jagr also made comments indicating that he felt that the Devils could be a solid playoff contending team next season if they were able to obtain a top scorer and an elite defenseman.
I respect Jagr tremendously, but I think this roster requires more help than the addition of just two players. I have defended this roster throughout this season, when others did not, and insisted that the talent level on this roster is evident.
Jagr spoke about the new players added to this roster prior to the season and the challenges to learning a new system. I agree with that assessment, I think it is very difficult to learn a new system as a player and it takes a year to get comfortable within it.
However, that being stated, this roster needs some changes in the offseason. The new ownership group of the team is not going to be comfortable with the team hovering at .500, they bought the Devils to bring them to a championship level again.
The construction of a hockey roster is different than in other sports because most players taken in the Draft need to be developed in the minor leagues before they can make meaningful contributions on the NHL level.
The free agent market is going to be where the Devils can probably create the most impactful changes to this roster in the offseason. The salary cap will probably increase based on the increased revenue projections for the league. This will favor the Devils now with their deep pocketed new owners.
Those discussions are still in the future and should be reserved for when the season is finished. Until then, the Devils have a lot more questions than they have answers. New Jersey will finish their season on Sunday afternoon with the knowledge that some more consistent play could have made a huge difference between being home for the playoffs and actually participating in them.
(Statistics and records courtesy of NHL.com. Background information courtesy of CBS Sports, SI.com, The Bergen Record, and NJ.com)